Welcome back to AFTER THE HYPE, the series where I review an album after the hype dies down and see whether the hullabaloo was all worth it. Today’s album, the long awaited and often promised, I Am Easy To Find by The National.
I’ve been meaning to write this article for close to two weeks. Maybe a little bit more. And I must admit, I haven’t looked forward to it. I haven’t looked forward to listening to the album, nor writing the review. I have a history with The National, one that started like any new relationship should, full of love and joy, discovery and amazement. But a bitterness crept inside me the more I’d listen to The National, an insidious cancer that ate away at the excitement I had over discovering the band years ago. It started a few months after Trouble Will Find, The National’s 2013 album, came out. I started to realise the band were merely rehashing their own ideas, in a depressingly meek manner. The dull, monotone vocals of Matt Berninger gracefully tiptoeing in his safe vocal register, rarely moving above or below his darkly depressing tone. The band themselves writing emotional rock ballads that share a similar structure to each other the more you listen to them. The formula is simple: start minimally bleak, introduce the instruments, move to a chorus with emotionally surface level lyrics and continue to build gradually – but not too much as it might detract away from their dark, moody demeanour. I get an overwhelming sensation that it’s all a façade; the moody atmosphere, the superficially emotional choruses that are written so simply just so fans will have something to scream back at him at a live performance. I was not excited to listen to this album.
Out of pure professionalism to my own blog, I will try and flesh this review out. But I will admit, I’ve made it through this album once. Only once. Its sixteen tracks, and over one-hour run time, are a slog to my psyche. And I don’t like to be that writer that just slags on a band or artist for five-hundred words, because that’s not a very productive way to spend my time, or yours dear reader. If I wanted to do that I’d be writing for Vice, or The Daily Mail. But the thought did enter my mind of simply writing seven words and clicking ‘publish’. “This album is not worth the hype”. Alas I chose not to do that. I Am Easy To Find is much of the exact same that The National has been releasing since the start of this decade. Emotionally dark and moody music for the sake of being emotionally dark and moody. But there are some highlights to this album, you better believe it. On many of the tracks Berninger shares his vocal responsibilities alongside guest female vocalists. Some of them share the same droning traits of their male counterpart, but some elevate the tune and make me realise how much Berninger’s vocals detract from my enjoyment of the band. The instrumentals and musicianship of The National have always been my favourite part of the band. The guitar work and composition that goes into the tracks are often a delight to listen to. Pair that with some fantastic female performances and you’ve got yourself a solid track. Like Gail Ann Dorsey’s vocals on third track Roman Holiday; my favourite of the bunch. Or Minda Tindle’s fragile vocal performance on Oblivions. Even Sharon Van Etten’s paired back husky lines in The Pull Of You are pleasant to listen to, featuring alongside a shimmer of a passionate performance from Berninger. I enjoy the female performances on this album, for the most part. And many of the instrumentals, especially in the three tracks I mentioned, are interesting enough to listen to. Maybe if the album only had seven or eight songs I’d have a different opinion, and would be more eager to put this on a daily rotation. But it certainly overstays it’s welcome at over one-hour long, many songs sitting between the four-to-six-minute mark.
It often puzzles me how The National can be praised and lifted to the heights that they are. They have a dedicated fan base, who settle down with Berninger’s dark and brooding vocals as if they are settling down on the lounge on a winter’s eve with a cup of hot chocolate. I can see the appeal in his dark, almost mysterious demeanour. His low drawl like a blanket over the ears. But c’mon people, can we not see beyond the façade? See beyond the constant rehashing of the same ideas, being emotional for the sake of being emotional. The comparison has been made before, but I’ll say it again here, The National is emo music for the indie-rockers. Whether or not these kids didn’t go through the phase of listening to Hawthorne Heights, Taking Back Sunday and Sunny Day Real Estate in their early teens and are perhaps catching up for old times with a socially acceptable emotional band? Maybe. Or it’s the same kids who’ve grown up from the hardcore emo days, and still seek that emotional significance from their music but no longer wear black skinnies and straighten their hair? Another possibility. And like the many bands in the emo genre, they were rehashing their own ideas track after track. There’s only so much a person can sing about heartbreak, death and despair. And there’s only so much I can hear about it. It’s time to stop giving The National the credit they deserve.
The National’s I Am Easy To Find is not worth the hype.